When you’re going through one of the inevitable crises of life, you’re going to need others to be there for you. In the same way, when others are going through a trial, you’re going to need to be there for them! Here’s three tips for guiding others in your group through the inevitable crises of life.
1. Show up and shut up.
Most of us feel very uncomfortable when we’re around someone else’s pain. And in our nervousness, we start talking. When we start talking, we often say something stupid (or hurtful) unintentionally. There are certain times, where it’s best to not say anything at all. If you think someone is pregnant but aren’t 100% sure, it’s best not to say anything at all. In the same way, when someone’s in pain, it’s best not to say much.
When someone has just gotten news of tragedy, simply being there is the most important thing. The best present is your presence. Don’t worry in the car ride over about what you’re going to say. Trying to answer the question WHY is both impossible AND unhelpful in comforting the person who’s hurting.
In the Bible a man named Job went through a horrific trail. In one day he lost his health, his wealth and his children! Look how his friends responded. We read in Job 2:11-13, When Job’s three friends…heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. Job’s friends did a lot of things wrong once they opened their mouth, but they started off great. They showed up and they shut up. It was only when they started talking that everything went downhill. The same is true for us.
2. Give your sympathy, not theology.
When someone is hurting, they need to know that you too are crushed by the pain of this bad thing that has happened. What they don’t need are a bunch of Christian platitudes and cliche sayings. Here’s some examples of things not to say:
- God knows best. Don’t say that. What your saying is that this tragedy is part of God’s plan and that simply might not be true. God tells us to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” because God’s will ISN’T always done on earth. Plus, the last thing you want to do is help someone get angry at God when God is the very person they need to turn to in their time of need. But when you say “God knows best” you’re helping the person get mad at God by assigning blame to him.
- “It was for the best” or “He/She’s in a better place.” Don’t say that. Comments like these are aimed at making the person feel good about something they feel bad about. Don’t try and do that!
- You need to just trust God. Don’t say that. What does that even mean? Are you saying that if they had more faith they wouldn’t be hurting so much? Do you realize what you’re communicating? You’re telling them while they’re hurting that they’re a bad Christian. How demoralizing! That’s not going to bring comfort – that’s going to produce guilt! Now you’ve made the situation worse, not better.
Much of what we say (when we speak instead of being a silent support) is aimed at assigning blame, not comforting the person who’s hurting. Back to the case of Job, when his friends tried to assign blame, they got it all wrong. Job’s friend Eliphaz said in Job 4:7-8, “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” Don’t seek to assign blame, seek to bring comfort to the person that’s hurting. When someone’s hurting, they need LOVE, not a LECTURE, they need ENCOURAGEMENT, not an EXPLANATION.
3. Turn your compassion into action.
It’s not good enough to FEEL bad for someone who’s hurting. The Bible tells us we must help the person who’s hurting in practical ways. James 2:15-16, Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? It’s not good enough to wish someone well, you have to actually help them become well (where possible).
By my count there are 28 unique “each other” or “one another” phrases in the New Testament. When someone’s hurting you can practice at least 10 of them!
- Carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- Encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 4:18, 5:11, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Hebrews 3:13)
- Accept one another (Romans 15:7, Romans 14:13)
- Be devoted to one another and honor one another (Romans 12:10)
- Be concerned for each other (1 Corinthians 12:25-26)
- Look out for each other’s good (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
- Be kind and compassionate (Ephesians 4:32)
- Serve one another (John 13:14-15, Galatians 5:13)
- Instruct one another (Romans 15:14)
- Pray for each other (James 5:16)
Job said of his friends “What miserable comforters you are!” If you follow these three tips I’ve just given you, no one will ever say that about you!